New possibilities have opened up for smart textiles and wearable electronics as researchers have incorporated washable, stretchable and breathable electronic circuits into fabrics. Made with cheap, safe and environmentally friendly inks, the circuits were printed with conventional inkjet printing techniques. Graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, can be directly printed onto fabric to produce integrated electronic circuits. These are comfortable to wear and can survive up to 20 cycles in a typical washing machine. The researchers from the University of Cambridge, working with colleagues in Italy and China demonstrated this discovery.
These new textile electronics devices are produced by standard processing techniques and are based on low-cost, sustainable and scalable inkjet printing of inks. The team designed low-boiling point inks, which were directly printed onto polyester fabric. This was based on earlier work on the formulation of graphene inks for printed electronics. Besides, modifying the roughness of the fabric improved the performance of the printed devices as well, it was discovered. all-printed integrated electronic circuits combining active and passive components could be designed due to the versatility of the process along with single transistors. Currently, rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles is used in most wearable electronic devices that are available. Most often these get damaged when washed, are uncomfortable to wear as they are not breathable and offer limited compatibility with the skin.
Dr Felice Torrisi of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, the paper’s senior author said, “Other inks for printed electronics normally require toxic solvents and are not suitable to be worn, whereas our inks are both cheap, safe and environmentally-friendly, and can be combined to create electronic circuits by simply printing different two-dimensional materials on the fabric.” This discovery has led to numerous commercial opportunities for two-dimensional material inks. This ranges from wearable energy harvesting and storage, personal health and well-being technology, wearable computing and fashion, to military garments. Besides, new technical advances in the smart textiles industry are focussing on the use of graphene and other related 2D material (GRM) inks to create electronic components and devices integrated into fabrics and innovative textiles.